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Woocommerce Category Post Widget
Thousands of independent retailers have urged the government to crack down on major chains such as The Range, Carpetright and Ryman for continuing to trade during lockdown despite largely selling “non-essential” goods.
Andrew Goodacre, the chief executive of Bira, a trade association representing 3,000 independent retailers, said his members were furious that large homewares and other non-food businesses were continuing to trade while small businesses were sticking to the rules. “They are using words like injustice, unfair and un-level playing field,” he said.
“The government need to make it very clear to these large companies that they cannot open or can only sell what they deem essential, not a whole range of Christmas trees and lights.”
Retailers selling furnishings, homewares, clothing and electronic goods and other “non-essential” goods, such as toys and stationery, were all told to close their doors for a month on Thursday under new regulations designed to control the spread of coronavirus.
Supermarkets, garden centres, bike shops, newsagents and those selling food, pet supplies and hardware, such as DIY shops, are all classed as essential and allowed to continue to trade.
Detailed guidelines published on Friday confirmed that supermarkets or other “mixed” retailers would not have to rope-off individual aisles where they were selling a small amount of homewares, clothing or other goods deemed non-essential. However, those selling non-essential goods via concessions or separate areas or floors of their stores were told to close those sections down.
“Independent non-essential retailers have accepted the [lockdown] ruling but what they can’t accept is that it doesn’t apply to competitors like homeware stores that might sell a bit of hardware and food. It seems completely unfair that those retailers can bend the rules at this important trading time,” Goodacre said.
Bira’s comments came as Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group said that the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis was “causing devastation” in the retail sector.
Frasers said it would not be opening any of its chains, including Sports Direct, upmarket fashion store Flannels and Evans, the latter of which is allowed to trade because bike shops are classed as an essential retailer.
In a statement released to the stock market on Friday, the group singled out Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove who criticised Ashley’s attempts to classify Sport Direct during the spring lockdown as an “essential retailer”. Frasers said the government was “failing to provide the leadership and guidance that businesses require” with “risible mismanagement” of the pandemic.
A source at one major retailer which competes with The Range said: “It’s the wild west out there. The legislation was rushed and now government has lost control, with some retailers taking liberties in a very unfair playing field.”
Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses added: “Policymakers shouldn’t be working on the assumption that bigger retail settings are automatically safer – decisions should be purely intelligence led.”
In light of the guidance published on Friday, Marks & Spencer, which had already closed stores selling only clothing and homewares and some upper floors of shops selling food on the ground floor, said it would now only be opening clothing departments operating directly alongside food areas. Stores which had kept first floors filled with clothing open on Thursday subsequently closed them on Friday.
In contrast, The Range continued to trade from upper floors filled with Christmas decorations or other non-essential items.
The Range said it remained open because it stocked “thousands of essential everyday products” at its 184 stores. “As a value retailer, we understand that a lot of our customers rely on us to provide essential items like groceries, pet care products, non-prescription medicines, toiletries and cleaning items, at the low prices that they need right now,” the retailer said on its website.
Theo Paphitis, the owner of Ryman, said the stationery and office-kit store was continuing to trade “by virtue of its significant and increasing turnover in the financial sector through Western Union, its Post Offices and DHL parcels business”.
A statement on Carpetright’s website said its stores remained open after it had “reviewed the regulations” and it was “experiencing a high volume of inquiries from customers, trade partners and companies as to whether they will be able to complete their essential projects for their home or business”.
In the outer east London town of Romford on Friday there was evidence at a Range branch of non-essential goods selling well. A steady stream of shoppers were visiting the outlet on Friday lunchtime, browsing the aisles of bedding, furniture and Christmas decorations. The Romford branch hosts a small branch of food retailer Iceland within the store.
However, when the Guardian visited, the number of customers selecting baubles, tinsel and festive jumpers on display in the Christmas shop on the first floor of the store far outnumbered those who were purchasing groceries. A pair of customers had visited with a handwritten shopping list of items they wanted to buy.
The vast majority of products displayed on the first floor of the shop, including furniture, homeware and Christmas trees, would not be classed as essential in the government regulations, although there was a small aisle of bird feed. Customer Maureen Dobson had bought “a few Christmas bits” in the store. She said she had gone to the shop in the hope it wasn’t too busy. She had expected it to be open because it also sells food.
Paul Stepton had visited to buy groceries from Iceland, but said he had come away with more shopping than anticipated. “I got food and some paint. I didn’t come for fireworks, but I think it’s the only place that does them. I just got some sparklers,” he said.
Across town, most shops on the high street were closed, or only offering click and collect to their customers. In Marks & Spencer, the ground floor selling women’s clothing and housing its food hall remained open, but signs informed customers that they were not allowed to shop on other floors of the shop.
Ryman was also open for trade, in a branch which offers DHL parcel services and Western Union money transfer. Meanwhile, the Romford branch of the flooring retailer Carpetright also remained open with a small number of customers browsing inside on Friday.